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Book Club: Viet Thanh Nguyen on L.A.'s history of anti-Asian violence

Author Viet Thanh Nguyen
(Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the L.A. Times Book Club newsletter.

This week Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen joined book club readers for a wide-ranging discussion of his new book’s antihero, its Paris setting, his own refugee childhood, literary and musical inspirations, and his family’s favorite children’s books.

In his conversation with columnist Carolina A. Miranda, Nguyen also spoke about his role as a social commentator and activist and the wave of anti-Asian violence during the pandemic. “This kind of racism is not new. It was not new in the early 1980s when my parents experienced it or when I saw it happening. It’s not new here in Los Angeles.”

The USC professor recalled that when his parents opened the second Vietnamese grocery store in San Jose, someone posted a sign down the street declaring “another American driven out of business by the Vietnamese.”

He also pointed to the Chinese massacre of 1871, when 17 Chinese men and boys were lynched in downtown Los Angeles. “Anti-Asian violence has been with this country since Asians have been in this country.”

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“American history is not linear,” he said. “We’re not making some vast leap from the 19th century to the present where everything is now fine …. History repeats itself because the underlying problems have not been addressed.”

If you missed Wednesday’s book club event, you can watch the entire discussion here.

Nguyen’s new book, “The Committed,” is a sequel to his 2015 debut novel, “The Sympathizer,” about a double agent living in Los Angeles after the fall of Saigon. Published March 2, “The Committed” made the L.A. Times Bestseller List this week in the No. 2 fiction spot.

Image of book covers of Viet Thanh Nguyen's "The Sympathizer" and "The Committed."
(Grove Press)

What’s next

Mark your calendar: The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books returns April 17 and runs through April 23 as a virtual series. This year’s author lineup will be announced March 23.

Book prizes: The winners of the annual Los Angeles Times Book prizes will be named April 16, the day before the festival kicks off. Finalists include Isabel Wilkerson, Jacob Soboroff, Akwaeke Emezi, Ivy Pochoda and Karla Cornejo Villavicencio. Browse the complete rundown here.

How to binge watch like a pro: One year into the pandemic, television isn’t just the center of our living rooms — it’s the center of our cultural lives and brimming with unprecedented entertainment choices. Join Times TV editor Matt Brennan, critics Lorraine Ali and Robert Lloyd, and reporters Tracy Brown and Greg Braxton on March 16 at 6 p.m. Pacific for a discussion about the shows they can’t stop watching and life writing about television. Sign up on Eventbrite.

TV editor Matt Brennan, critic Lorraine Ali, reporters Greg Braxton and Tracy Brown and critic Robert Lloyd.
Left to right: Times TV editor Matt Brennan, critic Lorraine Ali, reporters Greg Braxton and Tracy Brown and critic Robert Lloyd.
(Los Angeles Times)

Survivor’s bookshelf

One year ago this month, Los Angeles shut down to battle the pandemic, closing schools, offices, libraries, indie bookstores and live events. That meant pausing our in-person L.A. Times Book Club gatherings too. We shifted our community book club to virtual meetups, and you can find previous events here.

How has your reading life changed since March 2020? Are you reading more — or less? Do you listen to more audio stories? Have you turned to apocalyptic stories or poetry? Are you diving into more fiction, like I am, to escape? What are you enjoying most right now?

We’d love to hear from book club readers about how you survived this past year and will share your comments in an upcoming newsletter. Send your messages to bookclub@latimes.com.


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